Carissa Moore’s home sits at the end of a cul-de-sac in the mountains above Waikiki Beach, surrounded by jungle on three sides. It’s a quiet place of respite for the surfer; a deck built on the back of the house leads down to a path that heads to a waterfall. It’s an impressive spread for a 20-year-old, but it’s one earned honestly: Moore was the women’s world champion in 2011, the youngest ever, and has a total of six tour-stop wins.
She is known for her gutsy surfing style, with core strength and agile cutbacks honed since she first got on a board at the age of 5. She was ordained early as the sport’s golden girl -- Moore landed the cover of Surfer magazine when she was 16, after winning a slew of amateur titles but before she debuted on the pro tour. In 2011, she became the first woman to receive a wildcard entry into the men’s Triple Crown of Surfing.
Her success comes at a time when competitive surfing is in upheaval. Starting in 2014, the Association of Surfing Professionals will team with ZoSea Media -- a company run by Kelly Slater’s manager, Terry Hardy, and Quiksilver board member Paul Speaker -- to restructure the format of the tour to increase its brand value. This includes event licensing, the potential of formalizing specialty events like the Eddie Aikau Invitational, and administering the ASP’s lucrative media rights.
For Moore, this pending overhaul represents an opportunity to address the problems she sees with the women’s tour: inadequate venues, pay inequality, near invisibility in the mind of sports fans. “I have to say that the women’s performance has been better than it ever has been, which is so exciting,” she says, “but unfortunately the state of the tour for the women is the worst it’s ever been.”
The Red Bulletin: When Julian Wilson won the U.S. Open, he earned $100,000. On the women’s side, Lakey Peterson won $15,000 for riding the same waves. How do you feel about there being such a significant prize-money discrepancy?
Carissa Moore: I think that’s just maybe our culture, to be honest. Surfing has been really male dominated for so many years. I honestly think it’s slowly getting better, where I think eventually men and women will be equal. But there are women on our tour who are not sponsored, and are losing money. They have to work part-time jobs.
And how are they going to be their best athletically if they have to do that?
I’m so fortunate that I have a great family of sponsors. I make my living off of my sponsorship deals, not my prize money. I think the women should be respected and should be rewarded for what they do. It’s different than the guys. The guys definitely do charge bigger waves and they do maybe bigger airs and stuff, but there’s a different beauty and appreciation for what the girls do.
I think people often don’t understand that.
I think, honestly, if we had better venues, and the women were really able to showcase everything they have -- because in performance-based ways, the girls are so close to being where the guys are. But right now, with us surfing small beach breaks in cities and towns, I can’t blame them -- it’s not very fun to watch. I actually turned on the France pro [last] year with the guys and one day it was so small and so bad that I turned it off. This is what people do to the girls all the time, and I did it to the guys because I don’t want to watch it if they’re surfing crap. Maybe if they gave us better waves and better venues, the viewership would go up.
Where would your ideal venues be for the women to surf?
I think definitely it would be Hawaii. There are four girls on tour now who are from Hawaii, and it would be great to have it here. I think there needs to be more of a variety of waves on the tour. To be world champ, you should have to be well rounded. You should be able to surf big waves, you should be able to surf powerful waves, small waves, crappy waves, everything.
Do they think if they don’t have that easy beach access at the venues that people won’t attend?
I think, especially for the girls, they put them in cities and towns because they’ll get more people to come down to the beach. Then they’ll put us in conjunction with the men, because people will come down to watch the guys. But it’s crazy because even when we’re in conjunction with the men, the guys get the best days. It is so biased.
Case in point: Every year at the first event, the Roxy Pro at the Gold Coast [in Australia], surf at Snapper Rocks is best at low tide. High tide is horrible. They ran half a round -- two or three heats of the girls -- at high tide just to get to the low tide. They stopped us, then ran the guys. It was so bad. They do it every year.
Do the women have any say?
The organizers say, “Oh, you should have a women’s representative.” So we choose a surfer to meet in the morning with the contest director and the men’s representative. But the contest director is a man, the guys’ director is a man. It’s two against one. Who is going to listen to the girl? It’s like, what’s the point half the time? It gets really frustrating.
Have you ever been the representative?
Honestly, I watched Chelsea Hedges. She used to be on tour and she used to be the surfers’ rep for us. I watched her come from the meeting so distraught, she couldn’t focus.
It gets argumentative, then.
It does, and you get frustrated. It’s almost selfish of me to be like, “I’ve got to compete at this point.” I really do care for the state of women’s surfing. I want to see surfing for women go so much further than just me. When I’m done, I’d like to leave behind a great legacy.
What would you like to see happen on the women’s tour to get more fan interest?
It just takes someone with professionalism to market our tour. The girls are not only beautiful, but they surf well and they have great personalities. There’s something there if someone can find a way to think out of the box and market us. You can’t market us like the guys. It just doesn’t work. Women are a different market. I buy clothes: I feel bad, but I don’t look at Serena Williams and think, “Oh, I want to wear that because Serena Williams wears that,” but I like it just because it looks cute. Guys will see Kelly Slater wearing a cool boardshort and they’ll think, “Kelly performs really well in those boardshorts. I want those same ones so I’ll perform just as well as him.” It’s not the same for girls.
What about TV coverage?
I think with the new deal they’re going to try and package it and sell it to ESPN, but the hardest part about surfing is that it’s not going to be on like football, because the surf is all about Mother Nature.
In advance of the big shakeup in 2014, there already have been some changes before the start of the 2013 season in March. For instance, you have a Hurley shirt on.
This past week [in December], I was migrated from Nike to Hurley, and it’s been kind of a weird time. I didn’t see it coming. At first, I was kind of like, man, I joined Nike to be part of this company that elevates surfing to a new level, and maybe puts on a level of being respected among athletes like Serena Williams and Tiger Woods. Maybe I was a little sad, to be honest. But I am super excited to be part of Hurley; they’ve never had a women’s team before, so there are three of us on there now: myself, Lakey Peterson from California, and Laura Enever for Australia.
Between that and Nike pulling out of their sponsorship of the U.S. Open of Surfing, do you think there is any broader implication for the state of surfing as a business?
I honestly think there are positives and negatives to the change. Because Nike owns Hurley -- I think they can do a great job elevating Hurley to the next level. But at the same time, I think that Nike’s kind of taking a step back, and they didn’t see themselves doing well in surfing. I think it’s hard, but you can’t just go into a new endeavor for five years and expect to see a change. These companies, like Quiksilver and Rip Curl and Hurley, have been around for years, and they’re respected by a lot of people. If it’s like, okay, I want to get something that looks like a surfer -- you’re not going to think of Nike. It’s hard.
Tell me a little bit about your Triple Crown experience.
Last year, after I won my world title, I was blessed enough to be given a wildcard into the first two events of the men’s Triple Crown. I surfed in Haleiwa and Sunset [in Hawaii]; it was such an honor. I got to surf with Sunny Garcia at Sunset, and he’s a legend. I didn’t do well in either of the events -- I lost in my first heat. Unfortunately, the waves weren’t that great. It is hard to paddle with some of the best guys in the world. To fight for a wave, it’s pretty challenging.
You mean that it’s more of a physical challenge?
Physically and mentally, to get yourself to that same level as a guy. If you watch these guys on TV, you know what they’re capable of. I think I could have done a way better job of staying in my bubble and sticking to what I know. It’s a great learning experience for me. It was great to see how the guys compete.
I feel like the girls are really intense, but I feel like the guys push each other more. They’re not so much, “Oh my god, you got that score, I don’t know if I’m going to get it.” It’s like, “I’m going to get the best score. I’m going to get a better score.” I think it’s a whole other level of intensity.
Is there any particular element that you want to work on for next year?
I think I’m mostly just trying to focus on my overall performance: How I compete, how I surf on a wave and how I just handle being around the contest. There’s so much going on at surf events, especially for the girls. We have a really short season, so we have events back to back to back to back. We recently have had another event added in Australia, so now we have three, potentially four events -- which is almost half our tour. It’s crazy. In the rulebook it says you’re not supposed to have more than two events in any region, but we can’t really say anything because if they take away those events, then we don’t have any events.
How old were you when you knew that you loved surfing?
I knew that I loved it and wanted to become a world champ when I was 10. I actually remember when I told my dad. We were in the car, and I said, “Dad, I want to become a world champ, and I want you to help me get there. I want you to do whatever it takes to get there.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I think surfing will always be in my blood and in my life. I don’t know how long I’ll be in competitive surfing -- I hope another 10 years. By 35 I would love to be going back to school. I would love to be studying to become an elementary teacher. And hopefully have a family, be married. Have a simple, happy life.
Check out the March 2013 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands February 12) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.